Monday, December 28, 2009

Creole Turkey Jambalaya

Hope everyone enjoyed the holidays! If you cooked a turkey, here is a tasty recipe for using up some leftovers.

As I understand it, there are two kinds of Jambalaya: Creole and Cajun. It seems the main difference is that the Creole version contains tomatoes and the rice and stock are added near the end. The Cajun version does not have tomatoes, and I believe the rice and stock are added at the beginning and simmered for longer.

Traditional recipes call for fresh tomatoes, but in my neck of the woods, it is nearly impossible to find good fresh tomatoes in the winter. There are some good hydroponic tomatoes grown in Ontario now, however, I have yet to find them in Chinatown. If fresh tomatoes are available, by all means, use them! Add them before you deglaze the pan and saute them until they are browned. This will add a whole other dimension of flavour to your dish as it brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Feel free to use other meats and seafood. I've done this with ham instead of sausage and it was fantastic. I've also used soaked, salt cod instead of the shrimp. It had a stronger fish flavour and it was delicious. I don't cook much shellfish, but I imagine that any kind would be great.

If you wanted to make this a dish that is cooked longer, such as something you do in your crockpot for the day, be sure to add the shrimp in the last bit of cooking because it will become rubbery otherwise.

I do this dish in my big cast iron pan for maximum browning and flavour. I have used my electric skillet previously and I did not feel that the flavour had enough depth.

Ingredients:

1 cup cubed, cooked turkey (or chicken)
1 cup cubed smoked sausage (kielbasa is perfect and easy to find)
Few handfuls of cooked shrimp (still frozen shrimp is perfectly find)
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large cooking onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 small can of diced, stewed tomatoes
4 cups of good chicken broth (purchased boxed broth is perfect here)
3 cups of uncooked, parboiled rice (or rice of your choosing, I have not tried this with brown rice)
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste

1. Saute your meats and veggies together until the veggies are soft and the meats are slightly browned.
2. Deglaze the pan with about half of the stock. Be sure to scrape all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the tomatoes, seasonings, rice and the rest of the stock. Stir well to combine. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Test for seasoning, but avoid taking rice during your test as it will not be cooked. Adjust seasonings as needed.
5. Add the shrimp, cover and simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes until the rice is cooked all the way through.

Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If you feel like being bad, make this candy

1 cup brown sugar
1 stick of real butter
9 saltine crackers
handful of chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a 8 X 8 pan with parchment paper or foil. Arrange the crackers in the pan.
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the sugar and bring it to the boil. Let boil for 3 minutes.
4. Pour the butter and sugar mixture over the crackers.
5. Bake for 5 minutes, then sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. When melted, spread them evenly over the top.

Let cool or place in freezer for 15 minutes if you can not wait. Delicious. It tastes like something complicated that took a really long time and everyone will be impressed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Scottish Shortbread

Easy, traditional, delicious cookies for the holidays.

3 cups of flour
1/2 lb butter
1 cup brown sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar. The easiest way to do this is with a hand mixer.
  3. Add the flour and mix well. Knead with your hands briefly until the dough becomes smooth.
  4. Roll out the dough until it is approximately 1/2 thick. Either cut out with cookie cutters or cut into strips.
  5. Place on an ungreased cookie sheets and and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

15 minute Asian Beef Soup

This is fast, cheap and tasty.

1. Brown a pound of ground beef. Add a couple of chopped green onions, a handful of fresh corriander (or any herb, really), some grated fresh ginger or a dallop of bottled grated ginger, and a clove or two of garlic.

2. Heat a can of chicken broth mixed with two can fulls of water.

3. Add the meat, one thinly sliced pepper, dried chili flakes to taste, a handful of thin rice noodles, a handful of thinly sliced cabbage (could even used packaged coleslaw mix here). You could also add any veggies, chopped small, a this stage.

4. Bring to the boil for a few minutes, then let simmer for as long as you have and serve.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The problem with relationships

The problem with relationships is that you never really know who you are dealing with until you live with them. People can be all kinds of things in their public lives, and be someone completely different in their private life. The problem is that by the time you get to know someone for who they are privately, you are likely well down the path of forming a life around that person. You may have reorganized many aspects of your life to fit that person in, and various people have all sorts of expectations of you and this relationship. Things might have been rolling along just fine between you and surprise! You learn that your partner is going to spend a lot of time looking at internet porn, or expects to have control of the thermostat at all times, or that they hate to go grocery shopping and you're going to be doing it by yourself. These seem like small things, but they are not. These are the things that can make or break your life together. These are the things that can make daily life a living hell.

Earlier in Western culture, marriage was permanent. Most people got married, and stayed that way because leaving was not a socially acceptable or legally readily available option. That is how marriages kept people together. I am not suggesting that I think everyone has to get married, or that they should have to stay in relationships that are damaging in some way. I'm just saying that the idea of leaving was not there in the way it is now, looming over every aspect of your relationship as the ultimate solution to whatever problem you have in front of you.

I think this is why couples have a hard time solving problems in their relationships, at least in western society. You don't really have to solve relationship problems now. You don't really have to negotiate about anything. Not going to do what I want? No problem! I'm leaving. I've actually conducted an informal peer survey around this. I asked people how often one or both partners suggest or say outright that they are leaving during an argument. Every single person I talked to said that this happens in most if not all of their arguments. Leaving may not actually happen, but the words are still there, hovering over the relationship, like a permanent thought-bubble in a comic strip that otherwise proceeds.

I also think there is a link between this mentality and consumerist culture. Consumerism trains us to think that we can always have what we want, and if the thing we have now is not what we want, we can throw it out and get a new one.

Somehow, we have to get back to understanding that people (and all things, really) are not disposable. We have to get back to thinking that once we have committed to someone, we are there for life, come what may. We have to get back to problem solving. We have to accept that we may have to take a step forward into territory we hadn't planned on entering, and that we might have to accept something that we do not want. We have to get back to valuing the happiness and contentment of our partners. And the bigger trick seems to be that BOTH people have to do this. One person can try to make this leap, but if their partner is not there with them, both people are going end up angry and bitter.

I have no idea how to get there. These are just some things I've been thinking about, as I've been learning about being married, and as I've been watching some relationships end in the lives of people around me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Frosted" windows

I have a fairly large wreath on our front door all year round, which I redecorate with the seasons and holidays. When I hung the wreath I made last night, I realized that the window in our door was quite exposed, due to the new wreath being smaller. So, as if stringing 118 Christmas ornaments onto a coat hanger wasn't enough craftiness for one night, I "frosted" the window using clear Contact paper.


It was challenging to take a picture of the window and this was the best I could get.

I have seen this idea on someone's blog but I can not find the link. The woman created some lovely designs for her windows and even used this method on her daughter's bedroom window.

This is a very simple project. About the Contact paper, they do make ones that are labelled "frosted" but they have a design on them. The clear paper is concealing enough when you put it on the glass. I bought mine at Canadian Tire for around $4.

I wanted to leave some clear spaces in the design because we do actually need to see out the window to see who is at the door.All I did was measure the width of the window, less half an inch (to get the empty space at the sides), and then I cut bands of the Contact paper in different widths. I cleaned the window and stuck the paper on, and that was it. It took me about 15 minutes.

You could do any kind of design and could use this to decorate a mirror as well. Big circles in different sizes on a window would be cool, as would any shape. It would also be interesting to cut a piece of paper the full size of the window, and cut little shapes into it. I have a vague idea for decorating our bathroom window this way.

Christmas wreath

I borrowed Eddie Ross' idea for a Christmas wreath: http://www.eddieross.com/eddie_ross/2008/12/no-wire-hangers-well-maybe-just-one.html

And made this:


I did a few things differently:

1. I purchased all the ornaments because I wanted them to be the same size and colour. Now that I am finished the project I can see that I might like it more if the ornaments were different sizes.

2. My ornaments are actually plastic. I thought this would be better, given that the wreath is hanging on the front door.

3. I used very small ornaments and there are 118 of them on this wreath. It is smaller than I would have liked, and can now see the value in using bigger ornaments.

2. I had to cut the coat hanger near the top, below the hook. The problem was that I could not get the metal straightened enough for the hook part of the ornament to slip past.

4. Due to cutting off the hook, I made two hooks on either end of the wire and hooked them together to keep the wreath closed.

Tips:

  • Try to shape your circle as much as possible before putting on the ornaments. I did not do this, and you can see that one side is misshaped.
  • When you first start putting the ornaments on it looks very strange. Just keep going, keep the hook part of the ornaments as close together as possible on the wire (mine are actually all touching) and they will shape themselves. It's pretty fancy!
Anyway, I'm happy with it overall and it's hanging on our front door now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quick Chick Pea Stir Fry

This takes about 15 minutes and it's delicious. I like to make it while I'm getting ready for work, so that I have a great lunch. You could this vegan by leaving out the feta, or you could always throw in a handful of cubed tofu to give it another hit of protein along with the chick peas. This also makes a nice side dish for any meat or fish.

1 large potato
1 can chick peas
1/2 package frozen spinach
1 small onion
1 small clove garlic
small handful of crumbled feta cheese
your choice of dried herbs
olive oil

1. Wash and pierce the potato with a fork a few times. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Let cool, then dice into small pieces.
2. Microwave the spinach on high for 1 minute.
3. Chop the onion and garlic.
4. Heat a cast iron skillet, put everything in the skillet and saute until the onion is cooked through and the potatoes are slightly crisp.
5. Sprinkle with feta and serve. Also packs and reheats nicely for later use.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Recipe - Jerked Up Brisket

This is one of my attempts to cook something that is familiar and comforting to both my husband and myself. You'll need to be around the house for at least 4 hours for this one, so it's something I do on a Sunday usually.

Why I know about cooking Jewish-style brisket

Both my parents' families have been living in the Toronto area for at least 4 generations. My father was a butcher, and so was my grandfather. My grandfather died when I was 2 years old, so I didn't know him. I'm told he was very interested in what other cultures ate, that he loved to cook, and that he was a fantastic cook. My mom tells me that my grandfather cooked massive spreads of food every Sunday, and there was a standing invitation to family and friends to eat at their house. As I understand it, at the time my dad was growing up in Toronto, his neighbours were Jewish and Italian, and my grandfather's interest in their cooking influenced his own. Jewish and Italian foods are two of my dad's favourites, and this is why I am familiar with the cooking of both these cultures.

When I first started living with my husband, I spent some time with his mom talking about cooking and she gave me some Jamaican recipes. These days she gives me the magazine Jamaican Eats whenever there is a new issue. Over time, I've developed a pretty good understanding of Jamaican cooking, and it has influenced everything I cook.

OK! Let's get going here!

Jerked Up Brisket

You will need:

1 6lb flat cut brisket
3 T of Walker's Woods Jerk Seasoning mixed with 2 T olive oil
10 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small onions, coarsely chopped
2 T butter
2 cups of broth*
seasoning salt and pepper

Special equipment: a large roasting pan with a lid, or if you have no lid, tin foil will do it. You will also need a large skillet, and I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Soak the roast in cold water with a few dashes of vinegar in the fridge for as long as you please. Soaking meat before cooking it is something I've picked up from my Jamaican family. My own family washes meat well, but I have to say I prefer soaking meat, and I can tell when I am eating meat that has not been soaked. Afterward, rinse and dry the brisket. Rub the surface with one clove of garlic, then slather it with jerk seasoning. Put the meat in a pan, cover it with foil, and stash it in the fridge over night.

COOKING DAY
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put the butter in the skillet and get the skillet super hot.
  3. Sear the brisket until well-browned on all sides. It might get smokey in the house, so open a window first.
  4. Rest the brisket on a plate.
  5. Add the onions to the pan and saute until brown.
  6. Add 1 cup of broth to the pan and scrape as much browning off the skillet as possible.
  7. Place the onions and garlic on the bottom of the roasting pan and place the brisket on top.
  8. Add the cup of broth from the pan plus the remaining cup to the roasting pan.
  9. Cover the pan and cook for 2 hours. Return to the pan, flip the meat and cook for another 2 hours.
During the last half hour or so, you can throw in potatoes and carrots or whatever. I also cook a pot of rice for my husband during this time.

The meat should be thinly sliced before serving. The gravy is fine as is for serving with vegetables and rice, or you can thicken it with 1 tablespoon of flour mixed in 1 cup of water. Add this to the pan and stir.

*A few words on broth: you can make your own broth easily enough, or you can use a carton of store-bought broth or you can use boullion cubes and boiling water to make your own. I like the last option, and I use three different flavours of cubes to get lots of flavour. Mushroom, onion and miso are my favourites for this dish.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Freaky Friday - One Liners

Every Friday, I'm going to post a round-up of all the odd things that people say and do in my vicinity that week.
  1. Guy on the street talking to his buddy: "I can only drop my pants for so many women."
  2. Guy in the park, to me: "I say no to drugs, but they don't listen."
  3. Guy on Twitter: "OMG! Kayne West just burst into our kitchen and blew out the candles on my daughter's cake while we were singing happy birthday to her!"
  4. Woman on streetcar, to no one in particular: "Those people are high! On drugs!"
  5. Woman to her toddler: "You're short, and your mother dresses you funny."
  6. Little kid, to my dog: "Quack! Quack!"
"That's all folks!", said the pig in the top hat. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"I've got a right to be hostile, man."

This article just irritated the crap out of me.

Read point 10. I get it, but I resent it.

It suggests that women DO NOT have to walk around on tip-toe all day at work and that we might be tired of exercising self-control by the time we get home. And it's certainly not acceptable for women to "go off" on men.

To me, this article does little more than perpetuate male entitlement to anger and aggression.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thai Peanut Noodles

I'm not sure how "Thai" this is. It's my first attempt at cooking with these flavours, which are commonly found in Thai cooking. I adapted this recipe from a few, including one in Nigella Lawson's latest book - Nigella Express. Anyway, this turned out great and I'll be making it again. It'll be especially nice in the summer when I'm avoiding the stove.

Dressing:
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp peanut butter - I used all natural
Juice of one lime
Few dashes of hot sauce - optional

Salad:
1 package pre-cooked noodles e.g. chow mein
2 handfuls blanched snow peas*
Half of one red pepper, seeded and cut into short, thin strips
4 green onions, chopped
2 handfuls of bean sprouts, carefully washed

1. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Add the salad ingredients.
3. Mix well.

Notes for next time:
-Try other vegetables, like maybe blanched green beans
-Top with crushed peanuts or maybe toasted sesame seeds
-Add a little honey to the dressing

*Blanching - immerse in boiling water just until the vegetables colour and strain under a cold running tap

From the vault - Cocoa

I wrote this in October 2008, shortly after we lost our dog.

Cocoa had cancer. I figure it started back in July when she had a weird "virus," and I actually had a feeling then. We had her back and forth to the vet at least 5 times. About two weeks ago she was hardly eating and was quickly and visibly dropping weight. I took her to the vet that Friday and again they sent us home with new medication and new food. They thought she had Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome. Nothing changed by last Tuesday so we told them to do an ultrasound to see if they could see anything inside. They saw that she had some lesions on her liver and thought she might have liver cancer, however, tests for that came back normal on Friday so we still had some hope over the weekend. We were waiting to hear back on some fluid they took from her abdomen, but it still looked like she might have a chance.

Friday morning was her last good little walk down the street. Friday at lunch was the last time she ate. I'd cooked her some ground beef and she ate a little handful. I'm really glad I did that. On Saturday she stopped drinking and was obviously dehydrated. I didn't know what to do, but was still feeling hopeful, and we needed to get her medication in her, so I started giving her Pedialyte with a syringe. I gave her a half a cup every half hour, with her pills disolved in it every 6 hours, and by midnight she was perking up. On Sunday I gave her a jar of watered down babyfood with the syringe over the course of the day and she seemed to enjoy it. She was lifting her head and trying to bite the syringe a bit. She even went for a short walk to take the garbage out with Jason. I realize now that she was probably dying, and maybe I extended it, and maybe I shouldn't have done what I did. Jason feels I made her I more comfortable and gave her another day.

She was bad on Sunday night again, she just kept vomitting and once she actually fell over. But I still had some hope. I was really expecting them to call on Monday and say "it's nothing, we can give her steroids" and she'd come back. But that is not what the vet had to say. On Monday they said the fluid revealed cancer. They figure it was in her bile duct and pancreas.

At first we thought about giving her chemo.They said it would cost $4000-$6000, which would have been the last of our wedding money, but we would have done it, and put the wedding off. We've already spent our honeymoon money. But the vet and oncologist said she had little chance of survival. And that's when we knew we needed to help her go.

I am lost right now. That dog could read my thoughts. She knew exactly what I wanted and I needed her to do at all times. She also gave me a lot of freedom because she was there to protect me. We live in a strange area, and because of her, I felt perfectly safe going for a walk night or sitting in the yard. If we were in the yard together and Jason went in, she would not go in the house, even if he asked her to go in, she would not leave me. I was fine at home alone if Jason went out, and he felt fine leaving us. She'd lay in the downstairs hall and keep her eye on both doors, and I could go to sleep. She watched me constantly. If I got up in the night she'd get up too. I could run down to the laundry room at night with her, or leave the door unlocked while I ran out for something because I knew she'd watch the house.

I think the hardest part for me right now is walking. Sweetie always walked with Jason in front and Cocoa and I behind. We did it this way because Sweetie is just so nervous, she needed Jason to handle her and have us behind her. They also walk a lot faster than Cocoa and I did, we liked to take our time, and Cocoa liked to smell everything. Now I am alone and it feels terrible. Sweetie is doubly nervous now.

Jason and I and the dogs worked like a well-oiled machine. And now a very important part is missing.

The Low Road - Marge Piercey

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

http://www.margepiercy.com/sampling/The_Low_Road.htm

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

15 Minute Dinner - Pasta Puttanesca

This dish has been much-discussed throughout it's history. There a few stories about it's origins, one of which is that the name comes from the Italian word for whore - puttana, and it is thought that this dish born in the brothels of Italy, cheaply and quickly prepared by prostitutes between customers. You can read more theories of it's origins here on Wikipedia.

Regardless of where it came from, it's quick and inexpensive pasta dish that can be prepared in a myriad of ways. Read on for my quick take on this delicious dinner. For some thoughts on the ingredients in this meal, check out this post.

2 cups of high-quality short, cooked pasta - I used Vita Sana Cavatoni
1 can of high-quality tuna - packed in olive oil - I used Callipo Solid Light Tuna in Olive Oil
Handful of capers
2 chopped tomatoes
Handful of chopped olives - I used some black and some green
2 big handfuls of washed spinach
1 handful of crumbled goat cheese
1 finely chopped clove of garlic

Cook your pasta, drain it, put it back in the pot, and while it's still good and hot, throw everything in, mix and serve. Yep, that's it! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sewing Challenge

Alison over at http://www.prime-number.com has a wonderful blog where she writes about her personal challenge to make everything she can. I greatly admire this approach to life, and I'm going to head in that direction myself. First off, she's inspired me to work through my stack of fabric, which she is doing herself. To begin, I'm going to make a skirt for work and a weekend skirt. I will post my results here.

The art of Yellena James

I just need to say that I am in love with this woman's art: http://yellena.com/

I was immediately attracted to her drawings, and at first, I thought I'd never seen anything like it, but I have: my own drawings. I've been drawing the same series of shapes for years, and never once considered them to have more potential than for doodling on scrap paper. When we were kids, our uncle would sometimes entertain us by having us draw some random lines on a piece of paper, which he would then turn into the most beautiful designs. I've carried that idea around for along time, and have developed a system of drawing abstract botanical images using the concept of starting from random lines. Now that I see Yellena's work, I am inspired to draw more, and to take some of my "doodles" to a whole new level. When I have some drawings that I'm happy with, I will post them here.

Why we hate to help

I've often wondered about why so many people have an adverse reaction to people, or animals for that matter, who need help. I've been paying attention to people's reactions to the misfortunes of others for a long time. What fascinates me the most is blame. Everyone seems to do it, including me. See, my friend has recently lost her job and her home. While I feel terrible for her, I can admit that I have wondered what she has done wrong to deserve this situation. I think these kinds of thoughts are related to the idea of independence in our culture. We are all supposed to be independent, and never need each other's help. I think this idea is related to consumerism, because, after all, if I'm sharing my stuff, the person I'm sharing with doesn't need to buy any themselves.

I was reading a blog article yesterday, written by a Ukrainian woman, with a unique perspective on the Western notion of independence. I can not find it for the life of me now! I really value what she wrote. Basically, she says that we all need to identify people in our lives who are really there for us and ask for help. I do consider myself a helper, but I have noticed that my offers to help can sometimes be met with suspicion. I think each of us needs to look at what we can offer to the people in our lives, because I don't think the real issue is that people can't ask for help, I think it's that people refuse to give it, and look for reasons to explain why they should not have to help. This goes back to what I was saying above. If a person has does something to somehow "deserve" misfortune, then I'm off the hook for having to help, aren't I?

Overall, I think there needs to be a collective mental shift around the ideas of helping and being helped, and I'm going to look at this in my own life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Live downtown? Stop grocery shopping! You heard me.

I'm sure this is mainly possible due to where we live, but we've basically stopped grocery shopping. Once a week, when we're together, we pick up pet food and other bigger items, such as a bag of rice and such. I do keep some staples on hand. But as for what we eat every day, we usually decide each day and I pick up the requirements on my way home from work. I pass 3 small grocery stores on my way. Here in Chinatown, fruits and vegetables are ridiculously cheap, and surprisingly, over the last year, I am seeing more organic items in this area.

I think this is approach helping the planet because:
  • we are not using electricity to refrigerate a lot of food in our home,
  • we are supporting local, smaller businesses rather than big corporations,
  • we are walking rather than taking transit or a taxi to pick up food, and,
  • we throw away considerably less spoiled or unwanted food.

I think this approach is helping us because:

  • we eat at home more,
  • we use our own bags every time,
  • we're walking more, and,
  • we are saving money on wasting less food.
If you can, give it a shot. Even if you don't live in an urban area, you might work in one, and perhaps you could pick up your daily foods on your lunch or after work before heading home.

By the way, this morning I woke up at 8:12 and was at my desk at the office by 8:58. Yes, I showered, dressed, and walked to work. Someone remind me why living downtown is a bad idea?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Don't be afraid of blouses!"

I stopped in a major department store downtown to shop for some fall basics. As I was approaching the women's wear department I heard an incredibly enthusiastic announcer saying something like this:

Welcome ladies! This afternoon we're going to take a look at mixing pieces you already have in your closet with a few new investment pieces. So join us in the centre aisle in a few moments and we'll get started!

As I approached I saw the announcer. He was decked out in a slim-fitting, light grey suit and had bleached blonde hair. He was just a little wisp of a thing but wow, did he have some energy. He was practically bouncing as he spoke.

I went off and looked at sweaters. I could hear the host with the most chattering on about the importance of feminine details and vests this fall. He wrapped it up and headed into the clothing racks, with a gaggle of ladies behind him, and he proceeded to help them pick things out. I started to head to the dressing room and that's when he spotted me, and yelled:

"Don't be afraid of blouses!"

He took a few steps towards me and I said "I'm not afraid of blouses..." He replied, "I don't see a single blouse in your hand and you need to consider a couple of great blouses for fall! You can take them right from the office and off for a special occasion with friends!" I said "oh...ok...thanks." I don't think I have that many special occasions with friends that require wearing a blouse, but needless to say, I went and picked out a couple of blouses, because at that point, it didn't seem like I had a choice!

I found a couple, and made my way back to the dressing room where Mr. Fashion Angel was waiting outside the door to judge outfits that women were trying on. He said "do you want me to wait to see your blouses? I'm waiting for these other ladies." I answered, "no, it's ok, but thanks." And I hurried in to lock myself into the dressing room.

While he may have been over-bearing, this man sure knows what he's doing. I bet I'm not the only woman with two new blouses hanging in her closet!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Altered book project intro

I came across the idea of Altered books when I stumbled on to http://www.gomakesomething.com. I was immediately intrigued and loved the idea of working on a book with others.

If you don't know what an Altered book is, check out the Wikipedia definition.

I've started a "round robin" with 5 other people. This means we are all going to work on beautifying the same book with our artwork. We will each work on our own pages, and then mail the book to the next person for them to work.

I selected an old university chemistry textbook that was bought used 10 years ago. It had pages missing at that time, and the cover had seen better days. Since I finished that course, it has been lying around in my parents' damp basement. If I don't do something with it, it will end up going into the recycling bin, or sit there for who knows how long.

I started by removing nearly half of the pages. I did this on the advice I read on http://www.gomakesomething.com. The artist raised an important point about the artwork increasing the bulk of the book to the point where at least the book will not lie flat, and at worst, it may fall apart. I removed the pages using an Xacto knife, leaving about 1 cm of the page along the spine. I am working on a solution for hiding these little bits of pages.

I have an idea of what I am going to do for a couple of my pages. I am determined to use materials I have on hand already. I may have to purchase a thing or two though!

So far I have created an interesting background on part of two pages. I haven't seen this technique anywhere online, I just thought of it myself. I will put the technique into a separate post shortly.

Thanks for reading, and stop back over the next while for updates on our project.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keep your voice down

I have become progressively irritated by yelling, and being yelled at. There is yelling all over: on TV, in movies, in the street, at work, in relationships. There really is no need for it, and so I am working on not raising my voice. Ever. I'm not talking about shouting because someone is far away and can't hear you, or raising your voice to speak to a hearing impaired person. I am talking about yelling because you think you need to emphasize, or give more power to, what you are saying.

I have realized that you can say the exact same words, in a normal tone of voice, and be heard, as well, if not better, than you would have been heard if you yelled.

I have a couple of theories on why people hear you better when you're not yelling:

1. Yelling is an act of aggression, and expression of anger. In the face of anger, we all fight, or we flee. Many of us mentally flee, that is, run away without actually going anywhere. We do this by blocking out the yelling.

2. Angry people are not in control, and if you are not in control, I am going to disregard what you are saying, or, rather, I am not really going to hear you.

I'm going to do some reading on this, but I think I probably picked up these ideas from Cesar Millan. Yep, the dog guy. When we got a dog, the first thing I heard him say was "be calm and assertive." It took me ages to master this, but now I do it instinctively and more often with the dogs. Now, I'm trying the approach in the rest of my life, and surprise! Various people are hearing me now.

Try it. Next time you feel like yelling about something, figure out what you want to say, and then say the exact same thing in your normal tone, or even a nicer tone, and see what happens. For your next test, wait until someone yells at you, and repeat the above. You just may find that you end up having a rational, healthy conversation about whatever was happening, rather than a yelling match, where one, or both of you, stops hearing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Homemade croutons

Making your own croutons offers a few advantages over buying them pre-made:

  1. You can make them from whole grain breads
  2. You control the oil and salt
  3. They taste much better!
I like to cut stale breads, buns and bagels into cubes and store them in a freezer bag in my freezer. When you need croutons for a soup or salad, take out as many of the bread cubes as you need and place them on a baking sheet. Then toss them with olive oil, dried herbs of your choice, salt and pepper. Bake at 400 F for about 10 minutes, or until the cubes are firm and slightly toasted. You can also bake them more quickly in your toaster oven.

Mini Sundried Tomato and Spinach Stratta

I've seen few recipes around for mini fritatta. I had a bunch of homemade croutons leftover from a salad I made yesterday, and I was trying to think up some new healthy breakfast ideas. So, here we have Mini Strattas.

If you're not familiar with Stratta, it is essentially a baked egg dish, with the addition of strips or cubes of bread and other ingredients bake in, such as spinach and cheese.

You can place a couple of these in a sandwich bag and microwave them quickly in the morning for a great, healthy breakfast.

1 dozen large, or 2 dozen small homemade croutons
4 eggs,beaten
1/2 cup chopped, softened sundried tomatoes
1/2 cup thawed frozen spinach
1 T dried chives

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Line a muffin pan with liners, or grease it using your preferred method.
3. Place 1 or 2 croutons in each muffin cup.
4. Fill cups 3/4 full with egg mixture and let sit for as long as you can. You could also do this the night before, store the pan in the fridge and bake the next morning.
5. Bake for 20 minutes or until egg is set and slightly browned on top.
6. Let cool slightly and serve, or let cool completely and store.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Make your own sugar-free ginger ale

There are a few recipes out there online that are really complicated, some of them involving yeast. This is my no-nonsense version. It is quick and easy, and tastes really special. I like to keep this syrup in a squeeze bottle in my fridge. I mix it with a carbonated mineral water such as Perrier. You could also use club soda, and if you are concerned about the sodium, look for low-sodium club soda.

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
2 cups boiling water
2 packets of Splenda

1. Place the Splenda and the ginger into a container that you can easily pour from, such as a measuring cup.
2. Cover with boiling water and let steep for a few hours, then strain into a container.
3. Pour a small amount of syrup into a glass with ice and top with carbonated water.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Street Freaks - Hey, Catherine!

I had just stepped out of the World's Biggest Bookstore, and a homeless man yelled to me "HEY! CATHERINE! Where's that smile?" I just smiled at him. What else could I do?

Sister Freaks - Dog Sitting

My sister looked after our dogs while we were on vacation. By merely staying in our home, she experienced two freaks in our neighbourhood, while walking the dogs.

1. A homeless kid asked her "can you get me a drink of water?," to which she replied "sorry, I don't live around here." He said "where do you live?" She said "far away." And he said "do they have people there?"

2. When she had just left the house, a woman yelled to her "are you Portugese?" and she said "no..." and the woman said, "oh...ok..."

Concert Freak

I was sitting on cement stairs at the northwest end of Molson Amphitheatre, during the Pearl Jam concert. You foolishly ran down the stairs, missed the bottom two, and fell on your behind. You jumped up and said "that was _______ awesome!" Then you did a little dance, ran over to the nearest wall, kicked it, and ran away. You seriously made my night.

Garlic Rainbow Swiss Chard

I bought Swiss Chard at the Farmer's Market, I've never had it, and it's delicious. I did some reading, and it looks like buying it at a Farmer's Market is the best choice, because the flavour is best when it is as freshly picked as possible.

  • 1 large rainbow Swiss Chard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  1. Wash leaves at least twice in cold water. I recommend filling your sink, piling on the leaves and moving them around in the water. This allows the dirt to sink to the bottom.
  2. Remove the leaves from the stems, slice the stems into 1/2" pieces and roughly chop leaves.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat then sauté some of the garlic in oil until it is slightly brown, and then remove it. This step just flavours the oil a bit.
  4. Add the chopped stems to the skillet,cover and cook over medium heat until tender. This takes about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the leaves and sauté until they are just starting to wilt. This takes about 1 minute.
  6. Add the remaining garlic, salt and pepper.
  7. Turn off heat and let sit for 2 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parmesan and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick tomato sauce

This sauce takes no more time and effort than opening a jar of something store bought, and it is much more flavourful. It tastes like something that has cooked for hours. It is great served plain with pasta. You can also add cooked ground beef, or simmer mushrooms in it until soft. Makes a great pizza sauce too.

1 large can crushed tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 olive oil
1 t oregano
1 t sugar or honey
1/2 t salt

1. Cook the garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook just until soft, do not let it brown.
2. Add everything else.
3. Bring to a gentle simmer and let it rest there for 5 minutes.

Quick pizza dough

This dough uses baking soda instead of yeast as the leavening agent, so no waiting! It is a fast alternative to dough that requires extensive kneading and rising. When baked, this is a more bread-like dough, which I love, and it's perfect for things like stuffed pizza or calzones. I found this recipe online somewhere years ago and I've been using it ever since.

2 1/2 c. flour
2 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 - 1 c. water

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add 3/4 cup water and oil. Stir with fork until blended and forms a soft ball. If dough is too stiff, add more water, a tablespoon at a time. It should be soft, but not sticky. Knead about 3 minutes on lightly floured surface until smooth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stuffed pizza

I was imagining something healthier than one of Pizza Hut's stuffed pizzas here. It came out pretty nicely. I'd like it to slip out of the pan once cooled, and this did not happen. I will experiment with sprinkling cornmeal on the bottom of the pan next time, as this works well for ordinary pizza, and also gives the crust a nice, extra bit of crunch.

1 batch Quick Pizza Dough (or a store-bought, whole wheat pizza dough)
1 cup Quick Tomato Sauce (or whatever you like)
2 cups toppings, see below for ideas
1 cup grated cheese of your choice
olive oil

Pre-heat your oven to 400.

1. Cut 1/4 of the dough from the ball and put it aside.
2. Roll the other piece of dough as thin as you can and drape it over a well oiled pie plate, leaving some to hang over the edges.
3. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the dough and put your toppings, and 3/4 of the grated cheese on top.
4. Roll the other piece of dough thinly and place on top of your pie.
5. Pinch the bottom piece of dough and the top piece of dough together, as you would a pie crust.
6. Cut a couple of small slits in the top of the pie.
7. Spread a thin layer of sauce on top of the pie, followed by the rest of the cheese.
8. Bake for about 40 minutes.

The possibilities for fillings are endless. Just be sure to cut everything small. I used the first idea last night:
  • Roasted vegetables such as peppers, zucchini and onion, goat cheese.
  • Crumbled, cooked sausage, artichoke hearts, provolone cheese.
  • Chopped spinach, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, feta cheese.
  • Cooked, herbed ground beef, chopped tomatoes, sliced olives, mozzerella cheese.

The best way to cook quiona

To make enough quinoa to serve 4 people as a side, or to make a large salad:

1. Choose a large-ish pot with a tight fitting lid.
2. Place 2 cups of quinoa into the pot.
3. Cover with 3 cups of water.
4. Add about 1 T of boullion* powder, or 1 or 2 cubes to the pot.
5. Bring the pot to a rolling boil, cover with the lid, turn the heat off and leave it for a 20 minutes.

Quinoa is cooked when the grains have sort of a little "tail" and it still has a bit of bite to it.

*I have used vegan vegetable and vegan onion boullion for this, and both are excellent. You can find vegan boullion at most health food stores.

5 ideas for quinoa

1. Serve in place of rice with soups, stews or stir fry.
2. Use in place of bulghar wheat in tabouli salad.
3. Mix with good pesto sauce while still hot, throw in a handful of nuts and goat cheese.
4. Mix with roasted vegetables and a few splashes of good Italian salad dressing.
5. Throw in a few handfuls of herbs and use it for a stuffing for peppers, tomatoes, chicken or fish, and cook as you normally would.

Quinoa with sundried tomatos, spinach and feta cheese

I started using Quinoa about a year ago when I became interested in ancient grains as alternatives to wheat. I have since found that I actually prefer it to rice, and will serve it plain with stews or thick soups. I also put together this kind of side dish, which you can change in many ways. You can also serve this as cold as a salad for lunch.

1.5 cups of quinoa
2 cups water
2 t vegetable boullion or 1 cube vegetable boullion
2 T olive oil
3 T chopped sundried tomatoes, packed in oil
2 handfuls of chopped fresh spinach or other greens
1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

1. Add the quinoa to a pot and cover with the water. Stir in the boullion.
2. Let the pot come to a strong boil, cover tightly, turn off the heat, and let stand for about 20 minutes. Quinoa is cooked when the grains have a little "tail" and they still have a bit of bite.
3. While the quinoa is still hot, stir in the olive oil, sundried tomatoes and spinach.
4. If serving hot, serve now and crumble the feta on top. If serving later cold, let cool and crumble the feta on top when serving.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2 for the road

Strange things also happen on our street.

1. Yesterday, a kid was standing outside our dining room window, talking to our cat. 10 minutes after that, a woman was standing outside our dining room window, blowing kisses to another cat. Sometimes it feels like we're living in a pet store here.

2. I went into a hardware/housewares store just up the street. Immediately after I stepped in the door, a man with an African-sounding accent said to me: "I don't understand why these microwaves are more expensive than Wal Mart." I said "well, I'm sorry to hear that..."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

From the vault - Meet Bob*

Years ago, a friend and I were heading to a house-warming party for our friend Sally*. Before the party, Sally instructed us both: "you are going to be meeting Bob*, and whatever you do, don't stare at his eczema because he gets upset." Well, I, for one, having the social graces of a 7 year-old, really appreciated this warning, otherwise I'd have been staring all the while, and may have asked Bob a lot of embarrassing questions...

At the time, Sally was really into "Community Living" and she had invited quite a houseful of interesting characters. I didn't know this was supposed to be a "dry" party and showed up with Sangria, which everyone immediately slurped up, much to Sally's dismay. The night wore on and I became increasingly restless while trying to connect with other guests, as we all yelled to hear each other over Sally's horrific guitar playing.

Then, Bob arrived, and Bob was about 7 and a half feet tall. He was a pale-skinned man and yes, he had some eczema on his face, however, it was barely visible in the shadow of his giant cowboy hat. Bob also had the longest feet I have ever seen, and he was sporting a pair of those mesh slip-on shoes in navy blue, with no socks. In addition, Bob had a cast on his left arm, which he was eager to explain to each person he met. When Sally introduced us, he told me excitedly "I got hit by a car yesterday!" I said "wow, that's awful!" and he said "TOTALLY!" and continued his way around the room to meet everyone else.

Now, the thing that killed me about all of this is that Sally only cautioned us about staring at Bob's eczema. No "oh yeah, he's like 8 feet tall" or "he might be wearing his oversized, novelty cowboy hat." Nothing. Just no staring at his eczema. "Whatever you do, DO NOT stare at Bob's eczema." And we didn't...

*Names changed to protect the innocent.

Purple reign

This story is better told in person, with actions. I can't possibly do this young man's persona justice in words, but I will do my best.

I was walking down Queen St. to go meet my husband and friends for drinks on a Friday night, and I decided to stop into one of the many fabric stores along the way. This particular shop specializes in ribbons and trims, and I've had it in mind to put some trim along our bedroom drapes.

Anyway, I went into the store and right away a voice calls from the back:

"Thank GOD you are here! Can you please help me?"

I walked a few steps toward the back and there was this lovely, lovely young black man, thin as a rail, poker-straight hair to his shoulders, fully made up, tiny red shorts, green crop-top.

I said "me?" and he said "YES! These women are not taking me seriously!" and he gestured to two annoyed-looking Asian ladies.

I said "well...I'll try."

So, he holds one of these in pink up to his face and and says: "well, which is it? The pink?" And then he pulls out a silver one says "or is pink too much and should I go with silver? Which one looks more natural?"

I wasn't sure how to answer this question at first and then I said "well, what colour is your outfit?" and he said "purple," so I said "well then you need a purple one."

And he said "thank GOD you came in here today, you have saved my life!"

I looked around the store, but of course I only liked the $26.99 a metre trim, and I have no plans to spend that much on drapes that only the two of us really see. When I left the store my friend had the two ladies sorting through boxes, looking for a purple one.

I told my husband this story later that night and he said, "let me guess, he's your new best friend?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Curry Beef

You don't see this very often, but it's great. I serve this with parboiled rice or, for a low carb / high fibre option, cooked quinoa.

1 lb stewing beef
1 small can coconut milk
4 T of your favourite curry powder
1 large onion
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 med. sized new potatos, peeled and chopped
1 can chick peas (optional - good option for stretching the meal)
3 cups water

1. Brown the stewing beef in a large skillet coated with olive oil.
2. Saute the onion until soft.
3. Add the curry powder, stir until the colour changes slightly.
4. Add the water and coconut milk and stir. Bring to boil.
5. Add carrots, potatoes and chick peas if using. Reduce heat to low and cover.
6. Cook as long as you long, not less than half an hour. The more time you have, the better it will be.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mixed greens with raspberries

I made this lovely salad for lunch today.

2 cups of mixed salad greens, cleaned and dried
1 handful of fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried
1 handful of toasted walnuts
1 handful of crumbled blue cheese
3 T balsamic dressing

1. Place your greens in a bowl and top with raspberries.
2. Toast the walnuts briefly in a hot pan with a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle over the salad.
3. Top salad with blue cheese and dressing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chili Garlic Bok Choy with Bacon

Two things happened on my way home from work yesterday:
  1. I bought a giant bag of baby Bok Choy in Chinatown for $1.
  2. I remembered a bacon of great looking bacon defrosting in the fridge.
  3. I realized I had no plans for either Bok Choy or the bacon.
First, I decided to chop up and fry the bacon, and stick it in the freezer for some later purpose, such as a caesar salad. After I removed the cooked bacon and most of the fat I thought there would be a lot of flavour left in the pan, so I threw in the Bok Choy, which I'd already cleaned and chopped. With a few more ingredients, this dish was born. We both loved it and I will definitely make this again.

10-12 heads of baby Bok Choy, cleaned and chopped
3 strips of chopped bacon
3 T chopped chives
2 T chili garlic paste

  1. Fry the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towel.
  2. Remove most of the fat from the pan and discard.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and pile in the Bok Choy. Stir fry until slightly softened.
  4. Add the chives, chili garlic paste and stir.
  5. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ingredients

Browning - This is a thick liquid that you can use to add wonderful colour to meat and meat dishes. It is also used in making fruit cake to give it a deep brown colour. It is slightly sweet, and go easy on it until you get to know how much you actually need for your dish. I have been using Grace brand as long as I've been using it.

Chili Garlic Paste - I love this stuff and it ends up in most things I cook. It lends a nice amount of heat and good garlic flavour, without being over-powering on either front. You can find it in the Asian foods section of most grocery stores.

Jerk - Jerk is an amazingly flavourful mixture of spices that is especially good with chicken and other meats. You can buy Jerk seasoning in two forms, one is a paste and one is dry. The pastes tend to have more heat, and do not think of it as a marinade. If you use the paste, you can create a marinade by pairing it with olive oil and lime juice. I also tend to add more garlic and thyme. The dry seasoning can also be used to create a marinade, but I've found I like to use it in lots of dishes to add a flavour boost and it is nice sprinkled on meat that you are going to roast. Recommendations - Mr. Goudas for dry, Walker's Woods for paste.

Newman's Own Dressings - I use these dressings because they are lighter on soy oil, and some varieties have none at all. If you want to read about some of the concerns with eating a lot of soy, check out this article. Furthermore, there are several organic options, and all of the profits from sales of these dressings go to charity. Yes, I know I can easily make my own dressings, and sometimes I do, but sometimes, a bottled dressing is just easier.

Pasta - We're all concerned about processed carbohydrates. What you don't hear too often is that pasta is actually takes a long time to break down in your body, and therefor, it does not cause a huge spike in blood sugar the way we're often told by The Diet People. Now, I'm talking about good pasta here. If you're going to eat it, spend a little more on it and steer yourself to brands like Barilla and Vita Sana. These pastas are made from high-quality wheat flour and water, and that's about it.

Tuna - Some of us have concerns about eating tuna, due to some information they've gathered about the mercury content. As I understand it, Skipjack Tuna has the lowest mercury content, and also, tuna caught in European waters. You can read more about this issue, and also check out how much tuna you can "safely" eat here, and while you're at it, check out some of the great information offered on this web site.

Jamaican Slush

My grandmother often made something she called "slush." It was simply ground beef and chopped onions with lots of black pepper, with a bit of flour and water mixed together for a gravy. She served it with boiled potatoes and it was one of my favourite dishes of hers. In fact, whenever I smell ground beef and onions cooking together, I think of her.

I have also encountered something similar in east coast homes called "hamburger stew." It is basically the same nana's slush, with the addition of chopped carrot, potato and sometimes peas or corn.

When I first got know Jamaican spices and seasonings, and was trying to figure out what to cook for my husband, I made something that is a cross between slush and hamburger stew, with the addition of dry jerk seasoning. I make a big batch of this at least once a month and it does us for a few days. I usually serve it with rice and peas.

2lbs extra lean ground beef
2-3 new potatoes, peeled and cubed
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons dry Jerk seasoning
2 tablespoons browning
2 cups water
3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper

1. Brown the ground beef. Add the onions and fry until translucent.
2. Mix flour and water and add to pan.
3. Add carrot, potato, garlic and Jerk seasoning.
4. Cook on medium heat until vegetables are soft.
5. Stir in browning and let simmer for about a half an hour.

Seeing green

Last Monday, I took the bus from Union Station up to Newmarket for a visit. As I was walking through the station I saw a man dressed as what I assume was a leprechaun. He was a middle-aged man, about 5 feet tall, with red hair a full beard. He was wearing emerald green shoes, socks, pants and shirt. He even wore an emerald green hat with a big yellow buckle on it. When I told mIy husband "I just saw a man dressed as a leprechaun he said "of course you did."
Later, while I was waiting for the bus, this man passed by, this time with a gigantic suitcase in tow, and this time, he winked at me. When I told my husband, he said "of course he did."

Maybe this man will one day read my blog, so just in case, here is a note for him.

Dear Mr. Leprechaun Man,

First, let me compliment you on your striking ensemble. Were it nearer to St. Patrick's Day you would be dismissed as simply another holiday reveller, but this far into spring, one can only assume you are, in fact, a leprechaun. I considered asking for a photo but I am not that familiar with leprechaun ettiquette and thought you may have found me rude. I'd like to say that I'm surprised to learn that leprchauns do not have faster, more convenient transportation options than the GO bus. Anyway, I hope you are enjoying your trip, which must be lengthy, given the size of your luggage. And thanks for the wink. You keep on winking, Mr. Leprechaun Man.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

White Bean Crostini (aka Beans on Toast)

We took our mom to High Park on Sunday for Mother's Day. There is a cute little organic Farmer's Market there, where I scored with a basket of Canadian, organic tomatoes for $1. I also bought a planter already planted with various herb plants for the patio. That evening, I fell and sprained my ankle, thus kicking off what is proving to be a boring and challenging few days on the sofa. I have been trying to come up with a few fast, healthy meals that don't require a lot of standing. Think of this one as a Mediterranean nod to good 'ol beans on toast.

A quick note on beans: I used a can of Eden Foods white beans. Eden Foods does not line cans with plastic containing BPA, and the beans are organically grown. Hence, I keep an eye out for Eden Foods products, which are starting to show up in the organic grocery aisles of major grocery stores.

1 can white beans
4 med. sized tomatoes, chopped
1 small white onion
2 cloves garlic
handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano, parsley and basil)
1 loaf of crusty French bread
olive oil
firm feta cheese, crumbled

1. Saute the onion in olive oil until it just starts to become translucent.
2. Add tomatoes, garlic, beans and another slurp of olive oil to the pan. Cook until the tomatoes start to soften.
3. Add the garlic and herbs to the pan and cook until the herbs start to wilt.
4. Slice 4 pieces of bread, sprinkle both sides with olive oil and toast. I did this in the toaster oven but you could also to it under the broiler in your oven.
5. Spread the beans on the toast and sprinkle on the feta cheese on top.

I had 2 pieces with a simple salad and it was a great dinner.

Cold soba with broccoli

I read that soba noodles are made from buckwheat and have more protein and fibre than many noodles. I wasn't exactly sure what to do with soba, so I just put something together and it was a nice surprise.

1 small package of soba noodles
1 head of broccoli, chopped small and lightly steamed*
2 chopped green onions
1 handful of chopped toasted walnuts

Sauce:
2 T soy sauce
1 t bottled grated ginger
1 T sesame oil
2 T olive oil
2 T lime juice

1. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and run under cold running water.
2. Whisk sauce together in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add broccoli and noodles to the bowl, stir and serve.

*To quickly steam broccoli in the microwave, place it in a bowl with a small amount of water and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Pierce the wrap a couple of times with a fork, and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Let sit covered for about 2 more minutes.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

From the vault: - Dancing Queen

I was looking at hand cream in Essence of Life Organics in Kensington Market when a woman came up to me and said "do you like to wear combs in your hair when you dance?" I said "when I dance?" and she said "you know, like...around..." And I said "no, not really." She said "cool" and walked away.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sardine fritter cakes

This recipe is partly based on my mother-in-law's recipe for sardine fritters. Traditionally, fritters are made with salt cod, however, my husband doesn't like salt fish, so my mother-in-law started using canned sardines instead. The recipe is also based on Maritime-style cod cakes, which I've cooked and eaten with a few people in my life. They seem to be quite common across the east coast in Canada, as I've come across them in families from Newfoundland, Cape Breton and PEI. Again, cod cakes are made with salt cod, and with the addition of mashed potato, and otherwise they are quite similar. In Jamaican homes, they seem to be eaten as more of an appetizer or snack, while in the Maritimes you will likely see them as the main part of meal, often served with fried potatos and onions.

1 can sardines packed in water
1.5 cups flour*
1 egg
1 cup mashed potato*
1 small chopped onion or 2-3 chopped spring onion (I always use spring onion)
1 TBSP chili garlic paste*
2 TBSP lime juice
salt and pepper

1. Drain the sardines and mash with a fork in a mixing bowl.
2. Mix in the egg, lime juice and chili garlic paste if using.
3. Mix in the flour and potato.
4. Heat about 1" of oil in a large frying pan.
5. Drop mixture by the spoonful* into the oil and flatten slightly with a fork.
6. Fry until browned plus a minute or two, flip and do the same on the other side.
7. Blot on paper towel and serve.

*Notes

Flour - I've been using Robin Hood Nutri-Blend, which is white flour mixed with wheat bran. It tastes and behaves like white flour, with twice the fibre.

Mashed potato - if you don't have any leftovers, you can steam a potato in the microwave for about 5 minutes and mash it with a fork

Chili Garlic Sauce - this goes into 80% of my cooking, it adds a nice spice and garlic flavour to your dishes, you can find it in the Chinese foods section of most grocery stores

Spooning - I like to use an ice cream scoop to spoon out batter. It works well for things like pancakes, and also for baking things like muffins. It keeps each one a uniform size so they are all ready at the same time.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

In a Toronto minute

While coming home from grocery shopping in a taxi today, the following events took place, within about two minutes time.

Background: we live in Chinatown on an odd little street, known by few. Accessing our street by car is a complicated production. One entry point is a narrow laneway that meets Dundas street, situated between two banks, and it's a favourite spot to hang around in your car to wait for shopping friends and family, perhaps read the paper or even to take a nap.

So, my taxi pulls up the corner to make the turn into the laneway and of course, there is a minivan sitting there. The taxi driver honks, we wait, and the driver honks again.

Then, two twenty-something guys, who were obviously high, come up to the taxi and one of them starts to open my door. I say "hi!" through my window and one guy says "hi!" And this conversation ensues:

Me: "What are you doing?"

Stoned guy #1: "We're going to the Eaton Centre!"

Me: "Well I am going home with my groceries!"

Driver: "This is a customer!"

Stoned guy #1: "Oh...."

And he finally closes the door.

Meanwhile, the minivan is still sitting in the laneway, so we continue to wait. After a momment the driver honks his horn and OF COURSE the stoned guys think he is honking at them, they return to the car and try to open my door again. I say "NOT YOU!" and one of them says "oh..."

I ask the driver "can you unlock my door please?" and he asks "where are you going madam?" "I am going to move the minivan," I answer.

I exit the car and at this time the driver of the minivan unrolls his window so I call to him, "sir, you can not sit here, this is the only way to access a street."

And he yells, "I AM GOING OUT!"

So I yell back, "THEN GO OUT!"

He yells, "I CAN'T! IT IS TOO BUSY!"

(Oh, side notes: it is raining, and by this time my hair has reverted back to it's preferred bushy-poodle-in-a-hurricane-like state. Also, it is always busy in Chinatown.)

I am at his window now and I say, "then you have to back up."

And he yells, in my face, "WHY SHOULD I BACK UP FOR YOU?"

So I say, in a tone that could freeze hell, "because I &*!$^*#$ing said so."

And he replies "oh..."

I return to my taxi, and Mr. Mad Minivan turns out into the street.

My taxi driver says "otherwise, it's been a very quiet day."

When I told this story to my husband he said (you guessed it), "you need a blog."